The Last Word on WA I-522

This is my last word on the Initiative 522 GMO labeling failure in Washington State; it is time to move on. Nonetheless, some of the negative experiences of the campaign may lead to corrective action even by the State Attorney General and that would be a good thing.

It’s always easy to criticize a campaign after it is over but with the Washington GMO Labeling Initiative 522, three serious weaknesses stand out that I believe kept us from winning our very just cause and that is too bad.

Non-GMOFirst, it is my opinion that the overall, hierarchical leadership was abysmal. A better campaign would have organized ALL the interested groups and individuals at the start into one room and even solicited for input to a comprehensive campaign strategy that everyone would agree to follow. This was not the truly grass-roots kind of campaign that I’ve see win with progressive agendas in the past and I believe poor local organization had a lot to do with Initiative 522 failing.

Second, the competition between NGOs is becoming common knowledge and that in itself detracts from performance. We at GoodFood World contributed as a small organization and gave a lot of time and resources to the campaign and were never even recognized by the central organization, although they gladly took our money. And of course, we never saw where the money was spent. To my knowledge, there has been no open accounting of expenditures. And there was really no solid collaborative communication network operating in Initiative 522 the website itself was not interactive and scheduling of events was not complete and up to date; modern communication and action techniques were not employed.

And third, there were several conflicts of interest in having a food chain retailer as large as PCC Natural Markets, which has a definite anti-GMO marketing objective, be a strong lead in the campaign, even though PCC is a cooperative and therefore protected from legal conflict in regards to initiative campaigns (to my knowledge) as an NGO. The organization lacks sufficient scope and is too directly a commercial benefactor of GMO Labeling. A better way would have been for PCC to contribute resources to one of the other traditional locally pro-organic organizations like Seattle Tilth or Tilth Producers of Washington and allow them to use the money to do public information meetings, etc.

From my position at GoodFood World, all I saw was a lot of confusion and elbowing between interest groups, and that consumed a lot of  energy. In other words, much of the campaign was dysfunctional with outsiders calling the shots and collecting the money, and local people bumping into each other or remaining on the side lines. In typical Seattle fashion, everyone had his or her own agenda.

In contrast, the “Vote NO on 522 Campaign” had outside money and a major shell organizational identity (to be assumed as modern agriculture), but was very much carried by people invested in agriculture at the state and even local levels including academics, agricultural businesses from feed to machinery, trade organizations, and a majority of agricultural-based farmers and ranchers. A lot of local campaign activity went unnoticed because it was personal communication from household to household, farm to city – we forgot, rural people have relatives in town.

So, you tell me how a much narrower group of enlightened urbanites was going to win against all the outside money and a majority of farmers, academics, and business people invested in Industrial Agriculture where GMOs are now commonplace. I’d say we definitely need to quit our highbrow behavior. We had a good position with getting everyone to demand to know what’s in their food but blew it because food labeling itself is so indecisive and poorly implemented, and GMO understanding in the public mind is completely off the map.

We can do better and we will; but in the meantime, all the various parties wanting better food need to get their acts together and NGOs definitely need to be reigned in to become more accountable and better defined to purpose. I should add that I’m aware some NGOs were silent on Initiative 522 because they are taking money from organizations and interests friendly to genetic engineering.

Here again, full disclosure would have been a help to at least settle the sides of the issue fairly. Money in elections is a problem in every quarter and needs to be addressed at a higher level of government.

We can begin to restore some of our own conscience, being very clear about how much we are in it for the money opposed to how much we really care about an issue. Campaigns have become economies in themselves with people using them solely to further their own monetary interests.

Share and Recommend:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • RSS
  • Add to favorites
  • email
  • Print
  • PDF

1 comment to The Last Word on WA I-522

  • Jan

    As a scientist, I was appalled by the rhetoric on the Yes side. I did my own reading of the research literature and concluded that GMO agriculture has the same problems as conventional agriculture and vice versa. This convinced me that concerned citizens (whose valid concerns, scientifically, really are only environmental) are well served by the Organic label and would gain only false assurance from a GMO label. So I voted No. The Yes side was pro-organic, anti-large scale ag, and they were dishonest about this. It’s fine to be anti large scale ag but its dishonest to conflate non-GMO with sustainable. Much of the campaign was doing this– the support of PCC and other organic sellers made perfect sense but was also sketchy (note that organics would have been exempted by 522).